roadside shrine

just like anywhere, Greeks love their roadside shrines. you'll find them on every hairpin turn where your car has to eek around corners hovering 300 feet above the wine dark sea. oh yeah. that's the worst, when your heart's in your mouth and you just know the car's going over the edge any moment now.

i finally got these roads figured out on old Ithaka, though. after so many years of driving up the one main road between the north and south of the island. i just don't like doing it at night is all.

because I can't - see - the - edge.

in the old days the roads weren't paved yet (God this makes me sound ANCIENT like the stuff I dig up over here). so we almost popped many a tire trying to drive over boulders while hugging the inside edge of the road. sometimes drivers (like me, for example) would have to change places. i'd lose my nerve.

there's a good reason these shrines are there. lots of young men on Ithaka love to ride motorcycles the way all young men around the world like to: fast. any every year someone goes over the edge. sometimes they walk away battered and bruised like my friend Thymios, and sometimes they die. when this happens, the whole island mourns. for years.

one of my last trips to the island,  i stopped and got out to take a closer look at one of these little roadside boxes. from a distance they appear to look like any old religious shrine but on closer inspection you get a bit of an odd look at Greek society.

inside was an icon of the local patron saint Gerasimos with eyes downward cast. a couple of squat candles melted to the nub in little splats and a little bottle of olive oil, presumably to light them with. off in the corner i noticed a couple other things: a pack of Karelia Lights (my old favorite brand of Greek cigarettes) and a tiny bottle of ouzo.

i guess the moral of the story is, if you don't go over the edge and land in the Ionian in a heap of metal, then you can send up a quickie prayer to Saint Gerasimos.

and have a cigarette and a shot of ouzo while you're at it.



  1. ...contemplating your good luck, and the Saint's generous support for your daily bravado. Love this.

    (the word verification: grecolo)

  2. San Gerasimos, huh? We can make use of him here, too! Our young men drive through the beautiful old alleys at hangman`s speed (preferably drunk, in the small hours, after a disco visit) and are surprised to find themselves dead in the next curve. Here we have no shrines (Protestant area) but find crosses with names and flowers, put up by grieving mothers and girlfriends. Young men are no different anywhere!

    And I bet the bottle of ouzo is meant to get their hands straight again, after the trembling part!
    The cigarette perhaps for San G. himself?
    I would have been curious, too.
    Good luck in your driving!

  3. Rosario - you are right!! I need to send up a prayer to the saints for keeping me safe on Ithaka's roads all these years♡


    Geli - i guess young men are the same around the world, right?! always liking the combination of machines and speed....

    the offering in the shrine makes me think that the best gift one can give is that which you want most for yourself --- and since Greeks love cigarettes and ouzo that makes sense here too !! xoxo

    p.s. San G is an interesting figure - i'm writing a story about the curious events surrounding his holy day - maybe that will turn up in a future post...!

  4. Swap the car for a sure footed donkey and enjoy a few ouzos as you travel along ;)

  5. Hello!

    This is Julia Von Holt from Forsyth/MICDS- wondering if you remember me. I found this blog when I was attempting to track down an email address for you. Anyway, right now I'm in the process of applying for a grant that would hopefully allow me to pursue some archaeology interests of mine, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to chat with me about it sometime! If so, shoot me an email -

    Thanks, and I hope you're having a lovely summer!

  6. Yes, I am looking forward to hearing more about San G! I like it that these "holy men" usually weren`t the least bit holy while they were alive!

  7. The women who tend these shrines and traveler stop-overs (some shrines are big enough to climb into and rest) are the saints.
    The women caregivers are stoking the oil lamps and probably sneaking a drink and a cig as their moment away from the men.
    Gerasimos seems to be a popular name on Ithaki - doesn't it.

  8. Ah, so it's the shrine-keeper's perk is it Deborah? I must say I like the idea. I might start a trend here in the UK... you know, a bottle of beer hidden in a speed-camera, that sort of thing.

    Do you think it'd catch on?

  9. annie - good idea!!! donkeys tend not to accelerate suddenly and fly off cliffs -- plus a great way to safely (haha) drink and drive ;-0


    julia - hello! of course i'm happy to help if i can - will send you an email separately - hope your college studies are going well!!


    geli - must follow up on your comment - that these holy men were not so 'holy' when alive!!! will do a little more digging on Saint Gerry but please share if you have info on other not so saintly saints!


    sistah - thanks for sharing this intriguing info!! it makes perfect sense for women to tend the shrines and then leave themselves some treats for their effort!! fascinating.....

    and yes, Gerasimos is a local name on both Ithaka and Kefalonia - boys are all named after grandfathers and many heads will turn on both islands if Gerasimos or Spiros are called out---

    for now i am going to be on the lookout for those 'big enough to climb into' shrines -- cool!!


    tim - love your idea!! and yes, i think it could catch on -- a beer hidden in a speed cam may be even more prized than coming back to find someone has put more coins into your parking meter... your version of pay it forward is quite a bit more fun ;-)


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